Gardening in Gwinnett: Fall the best time for fescue lawns

Tall fescue is one of the most popular grasses in metro North Georgia, and is easy to establish through seed or sod. Its green color during the cold weather months, when warm-season turfgrasses are dormant and brown, makes it appealing to the home landscape. Tall fescue is a perennial bunch-type grass that grows rapidly during spring and fall. It can grow in a wide range of soil conditions, but prefers fertile, well-drained soils with a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5. It often needs supplemental watering to remain attractive during the summer.

September and October are generally the best time to plant tall fescue. Seeding it earlier can lead to heat stress and seedling diseases, and later seeding may not become fully established prior to winter. If the seed is applied during the spring, it has less time to become established before the summer heat stress. The key to successful establishing of a fescue lawn is soil preparation. Have the soil tested through the Gwinnett County Extension office to determine the pH and nutrient levels of the soil. Remove debris and weeds, and add any amendments to the soil. Till in lime and fertilizer 4 to 6 inches. Apply enough fertilizer to supply 1.5 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 feet. Always purchase quality seed, one with a high percent germination and purity. This information should be given on the tag. Inexpensive seed often ends up being quite expensive because of low germination and purity. Reputable seed dealers are always willing to help customers select quality seed. Make sure the seed is certified by the Georgia Crop Improvement Association. It should have a blue tag.

Plant 5 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet using a mechanical spreader. After seeding, lightly rake or drag the area to cover the seed to a depth of about 1/4 inch, and then lightly roll the soil to firm the seedbed. Apply a straw mulch to prevent erosion and to retain moisture for rapid germination. Irrigate lightly and often enough to prevent surface drying. Mow at 21/2 to 3 inches tall, and do not mow a grass when it is wet, especially young seedlings. To maximize coverage of seeding, divide the seed into two equal portions and broadcast half in one direction and the remainder at a right angle to the first direction. Fertilizer and granular pesticide applications should be applied in the same manner. Rake the seed into the upper inch of soil or pressed into the seedbed with a roller. Spread straw mulch across the surface to keep moisture in for improved germination and to prevent erosion.

Timothy Daly is the agricultural and natural resources extension agent with Gwinnett County Extension office. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.